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Republican governors group attacks Sisolak for college tuition hikes in latest ad

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak speaks during an election night party at Aria after winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary election on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

The Republican Governors Association has launched a new ad accusing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak of letting college tuition prices more than double during his decade-long tenure as a Nevada System of Higher Education regent.

The ad, released Tuesday, echoes an attack line highlighted in the group’s previous TV ad stating that Sisolak’s time as a regent coincided with a doubling of student tuition and making it harder for students to attend college, as well as claiming the Clark County Commission chairman is “promising” to raise property taxes.

According to a database on “sticker price” tuition costs compiled by the Chronicle for Higher Education, tuition did indeed rise significantly at Nevada’s two public universities — the University of Nevada, Reno and UNLV — during Sisolak’s tenure on the higher education board between 1998 and 2008.

UNLV tuition increased from $2,116 for in-state students in 1998 to $4,493 in 2008, and tuition prices at the state’s flagship university raised from $3,381 to $5,076 between 1998 and 2008. Overall, the per-credit registration fee for UNR and UNLV students has jumped from $79 in the 2002-2003 school year to $129.50 in the 2008-2009 school year, a $50.50 increase.

Technically, state residents are exempted from paying tuition at Nevada universities under state law, but are still charged per-credit registration fees. Nonresidents are required to pay the registration fees and tuition.

Sisolak voted in favor of subsequent 5 percent tuition increases for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years in 2008. During his tenure, he defended the increases by saying they were necessary to help meet rising education costs.

“I’m the first one who wants to avoid raising tuition but the costs of education are going up, professor salaries are going up,” Sisolak told the Las Vegas Sun in 2004. “We’ve got to have a tuition increase that is commensurate with our increase in costs, as long as we do everything to keep costs down.”

But the cost of college has also increased in the years after Sisolak left the higher education board. A 2014 analysis by the nonpartisan Guinn Center for Policy Priorities stated that tuition and fees for Nevada colleges went up by 44 percent between 2008 and 2014, largely because of a sharp reduction in state funding — falling from about 71 percent of the higher education system’s budget to 54 percent between the six year period.

Sisolak has been cagey on the subject of taxes in past debates, but has suggested adjusting property tax caps — which critics say have not kept up with the pace of economic recovery — as a way to raise money for education.

Disclosure: Steve Sisolak has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

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